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Wednesday
Aug082018

New Academy Rulings = Catastrophe

Oh dear.

Whatever goodwill Oscar has gained recently with their commendable efforts to diversify their membership appears to have not appeased their naked NEED to more popular with people who they'll never be popular with. Three new changes have been announced two of which are potentially catastrophic.

Let's take them in order of least to most upsetting.

The Oscars will be earlier after this year. 
The 2019 Oscars will be held on February 9th, 2020. The benefit of rushing the Oscars is that it also helps alleviate (in theory) the December glut as well as the ever-tacky "one week qualifier" release tactic that feel like cheating even though it's technically just fine with the rulebooks...

When the Academy moved the date of the ceremony earlier several years ago now, it did have the effect of making October and November releases more popular while diminishing the importance of December (as we've discussed before). The possible minor drawback is that now it's even less likely that Oscar will ever differ from all the other awards shows in their choices with less time to think it through. That said, it's only a minor drawback because they already so rarely went in a different direction.

New category "Outstanding Achievement in Popular Film" 
We'd like to blame this on the new president BUT an entire board gets to vote on this and they all approved it. WHAT THE LIVING F***? Worse than its vague nature with details to be decided on later (way too look confident, Academy!) is that it will probably only exacerbate their existing problem of the Academy not taking blockbusters all that seriously. If they had this in place last year would Jordan Peele have made "Best Director" ranks or would his tremendous Get Out achievement have been ghettoized in a 'popular film' category?

It's probably worth noting here that in Oscar's very first year they had two Best Picture categories that were obviously designed, at least in part, to differentiate between commercial instincts and artistic ones. The World War I aviator epic  Wings took "Outstanding Picture" and Sunrise: A Song for Two Human took the prize that immediately went away the following year called "Best Unique and Artistic Picture". They're both great movies but Oscar wisely shut that distinction down in only its second year. It's just too vague because cinema has always been both commerce and art. 

Worse still is that it drives a stake right through the heart of a two good things Oscar has always done in the past: First, when a blockbuster is really great or everyone perceives it to be, Oscar does notice. Mad Max Fury Road won 6 Oscars, The Dark Knight was up for 8. Etc... Oscar should be about quality, first and foremost. This cheapens that considerably if you don't have to transcend your genre to be noticed. Secondly, Oscar attention for Best Picture, and to a lesser extent other awards, has always elevated the box office of films that might not have otherwise reached a wide audience. Moonlight and Lady Bird are recent examples of films that did considerably better than they would have had awards not come calling.  Awards are one of the easiest ways to get less devoted moviegoers interested in movies that aren't franchise spectacles. If you take away that power, that will be bad for the art of the movies and move us ever closer to the dread homogeny of an all franchise world. 

A Three Hour Broadcast With Some Awards Not Handed Out on Air
This is the most upsetting because we ALL know that the Academy has never remotely understood that people who watch the Oscars religiously LIKE that it's long. It's an event! It should feel eventful! The immediately mule-headed thing about this is that we all know what happens when they try to be short -- their first move is always to cut the length of speeches, which are everyone's favorite part, and their second move is often to cut the original song performances -- which are also a great way to break up the event (and why do you need other musical numbers when you can just devote the time to these five?). The producers never think to cut useless montages or comedy bits or random musical numbers celebrating whatever. Why does the Academy have so little sense about what people like about their show?

Presenting some awards off air reduces the respect for the magic of the movies. Best Costume Design, Best Cinematography, Best Editing... movies are not magical unless department heads are making great choices. They ought to be awarded. The only justification I've ever seen for removing an existing category from the broadcast is one of the sound categories (every other department on a movie has only one award despite their separation of duties within that craft), and the three short film categories. I'd prefer they keep the shorts but in truth they've always felt a little extranneous because everything else is about full length movies . Shorts have not been a traditional part of moviegoing for decades. That said, the recent success of those touring nominated shorts programs have done a great deal to popularize those categories, too. The Academy ought to be looking for ways to increase popularity of the craft categories, not diminish them! 

Awards that are not televised lose their cultural importance. One need only to look at all of the Critics Choice and Grammy award and Tony award categories that are not handed out on air. Nobody cares or remembers who won those awards! And shunning those awards on those broadcasts has not prevented dwindling ratings for any of those programs.

This is a travesty to hard working film artists and films that need Oscar visibility to enter public awareness (one imagines that the Best Foreign Language Film Award will immediately get pushed off the air and that absolutely infuriates me!). If anything the Academy should be ADDING categories to the broadcast (stuntpeople and casting directors to the top of the list of crafts that need Oscar recognition).

Now that I've vented, please talk me down. Is there a bright side I'm missing to these two major decisions? 

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Reader Comments (122)

I do hope the swift and nearly unanimous disdain for these changes will make them rethink these initiatives. But then again... I don't think they understand who or what these awards are for.

August 8, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterRyan T.

Primeiro eles tiram a Dilma, agora eles derrumbam o oscar

August 8, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterMoreno20cm

I agree with everything you wrote, Your only omission: Black Panther.
They REALLY want [it's audience]/it to be nominated (and win).

I have no problem with the earlier date and hope the other two changes won't last.

August 8, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterYonatan

Agree. Oscar watchers love long shows. We wait a whole year for that. The new category stinks.

August 8, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterZxM

What's the point in the expanded BP field in the world of "Best Popular Film"? Diversification is good, but this stinks of desperation.

August 8, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterBD

its*

August 8, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterYonatan

I'll bet this has the People's Choice Award folks quaking in their boots. The Academy does need some new categories, like a Score category for use of non-original music and/or for musicals. I'd also like to see Costumes and Art Direction split into Historical/Fantasy and Contemporary, for example. This is just wrong wrong wrong. Fuck the ratings.

August 8, 2018 | Unregistered Commenterken s.

Re: the Oscars being in early February - I would be concerned about far more than the Oscars having overlapping opinions with other awards bodies. They already see far too few things to begin with. What will happen if their viewing window is cut further still?

100% with you on everything else. Preach!

August 8, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterEvan

On one hand I think it's important that the Oscar telecast be available to as many viewers as possible. On the other, I blame the culture/business of network television (thirst for ratings, demos, "relevance") for these issues infecting the Academy. That relationship is no longer mutually beneficial.

At this point the Academy should cut a deal with HBO to run a telecast as long, highbrow and insidery as they want, without commercials. People will find a way to watch.

August 8, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterHayden

Great piece, and I hope these messages (which seem to be the prevalent take on these announcements) get back to the Academy and they reconsider. They may now feel they need to save face by delivering on their suggestions, but the greater respect comes from going: "We suggested, then we heard what you said, now we've reconsidered."

Having a superhero movie up for a prize that isn't the big prize will fool nobody and attract nobody new. The message to popular movies needs to be: aspire to be better. Black Panther feels like a possible Best Picture nominee, and this announcement potentially diminishes its chances. Wonder Woman felt close last year, or was at least in the conversation, so they're not a million miles from getting what the masses like in the mix anyway.

August 8, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterRobUK

Terrible choices, bunch of clueless decisions. Co sign on every thing you said.

August 8, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterV.

Terrible, terrible, terrible!

August 8, 2018 | Unregistered Commenterbrandz

Never understood the problem they have with the length of the show. People either watch or not. They aren't going to say "oh, it's only 3 hours long, I'm going to watch it this year". How long is a fracking football game???

August 8, 2018 | Unregistered Commenteradelutza

I get the anger, but I can’t say I blame them. We have to remember, most casual moviegoers don’t follow the history of film much less the (endless) awards season the way most of us here do. If I see that <I>Black Panther</I> is one of the most successful films of all time AND one of the most critically acclaimed films of the year, then it shouldn’t be (essentially) automatically declined for Best Picture contention because of the genre it’s in. The Academy has forced themselves into a corner because of their own narrow focus of what an “Oscar film” is considered. The critics and the 5 films EVERY group seems to see each year don’t help, but again, The Academy has made themselves all too eager to follow them rank and file.

With steadily declining ratings and perhaps even overall interest in that endless awards season where the only surprise is if the assumes runner-up actually wins, this odd/desperate experiment should at least have some genuinely or even curiously tuning in.

August 8, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterVal

Oh, the vulgarity! Makes me sick.

August 8, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterPeggy Sue

There is no bright side, sadly. There *will* be blowback, and AMPAS will walk it back—mark my words.

August 8, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterMareko

Also, February 9th is too soon. There's no way we will get all the pictures in time in Europe and the rest of the world.

August 8, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterAntiScreeners

If this change moves forward, we need to find a way to stuff the ballot box for Skyscraper, just so Cate Blanchett can go rogue onstage and say:

"Skyscraper is *NOT* great cinema. The world is *ROUND*, people!"

August 8, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterMiz Miz

No bright side.

August 8, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterDusty

This is a gigantic can of worms. What qualifies a popular film? Does it have to make a certain amount of money? And what is popular? Is it based solely on box office? Get Out was probably the most zeitgeist-catching film from 2017, but it was only 15th in box office.

This is the worst idea they have had in a long time, and they thought James Franco should co-host.

August 8, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterBen

AMPAS will never stop being its own worse supervillain. Viewers who think the show is too long aren't going to stop watching it for that reason--they just want to complain. The Oscars is a one-of-a-kind event and awards show. Trying to make it "palatable" is a fool's errand and doomed to fail.

One final plea: Please don't cut the montages! These are catnip for classic movie lovers.

August 8, 2018 | Unregistered Commenterbrookesboy

Horrible - however, on the plus side - perhaps all the good movies will staring coming out in the spring, earlier in the summer, in early fall and onto Christmas season. I hate that all the good movies come out over a 5-week period. Another example of the dumbing down of America. I am still pissed they took off the honorary Oscar presentations. Perhaps AMPAS should just accept who then are and be carried on PBS.

August 8, 2018 | Unregistered Commenterjimmy

I’ve always felt that the Academy could make better use of its honorary Oscars (and televised of course). If there’s not going to be a motion capture category there’s no reason they couldn’t have honored Andy Serkis with one by now.

And there’s no reason why they couldn’t (stay with me) give ones to Kevin Feige and Stan Lee. Look, I’m not even a big fan of the Marvel movies but there no doubting how important they’ve been to the industry and well reviewed and popular. It wouldn’t dilute the status of the awards any more than continuing to nominate Mel Gibson for stuff already does.

August 8, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterRobert A

What the what? Are they trying to compete with the MTV awards? We already have the shitty Golden Globes elevated to some sort of status, which is really just the "popular" vote among the HFPA.

Oi, this is all bad. They already have the honorary awards on a DIFFERENT night! And without the Craft folks, there is no freaking movie. (And I thought BAFTA TV awards were awful for having acting and crafts on different days...)

August 8, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterPam

Val:
You wrote, "The Academy has forced themselves into a corner because of their own narrow focus of what an 'Oscar film' is considered." Yes, we all know. But they've been working on that in far more productive ways (more Best Picture nominees, an increasingly diverse voting body) than creating new lesser categories.

And for the idea of Best Popular Film in general:
What if the Academy's choices in this new category are in keeping with their other choices? Are the fanboys going to be satisfied to see Star Wars lose to Wonder Woman, which might well have happened last year? I suspect the same people complaining about Oscar's irrelevance will find something else to complain about.

August 8, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterEvan

If this (preposterous) Popular Film Award goes ahead, it should be a Certificate -- or a spin on the Oscar statue (rather like the plastic BAFTA Rising Star Award) and presented as the second or third award of the evening. I wouldn't even consider it an official Academy Award -- perhaps Rotten Tomatoes (or ABC) could sponsor it, and treat it with the seriousness of, say, the jet ski, last year. (Meaning it could easily be wound up after a year or two.) Personally, I'm STILL hoping the Academy will go back to their 2009 Best Picture decision and put all this nonsense behind them... Look at the genuine diversity of nominees in 2009 and 2010 before they tampered with it. Also: the relegation of "lesser" categories is beyond disappointing.

August 8, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterDan Oliver

The Academy's excuse for dropping from a fixed 10 nominations to a floating 5-10 (so far either 8 or 9) nominees was that members were complaining it was "too hard" to fill in all the blanks. (Think about THAT for a moment). So why not just fill in the extra one or two places with all these "popular" movies they're now so eager to honor?

August 8, 2018 | Unregistered Commenterken s.

Antiscreeners - distributors around the world delay their releases so they match Oscar nods buzz, if the nods come earlier the movies will come earlier as well.

That being said. I 've mixed feelings about these news, anger, sadness, disgust. I agree with everything you've written.

August 8, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterDan

"The Academy ought to be looking for ways to increase popularity of the craft categories, not diminish them!"

Hear hear, Nathaniel. I see no bright sides to any of this.

Ok, well, in a way moving the telecast to an earlier date may not be so bad, as in recent years so many of the awards have become so pre-ordained that it's completely anti-climactic. But having the ceremony in later Feb or early March gives people like me, who don't live in NYC, more time to see most of the nominated films. Sigh...

At times it seems as though the Academy has a sort of deep seated self-loathing, doesn't it?

August 8, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterRob

Full agreement on the "best popular movie" award--whether it's because the AMPAS governor's are afraid a "best picture" nomination for Black Panther will be too controversial, or afraid of the backlash if Black Panther ISN'T nominated, the creation of a "separate but equal" prize for this movie is not a good look.

As for the omission of some of the awards in the interest of trimming the ceremony, I think the show's producers should move in the opposite direction--make the ceremony longer, divide it into installments along the lines of a reality mini-series, and devote the extra time to expositions of what the different crafts involve and why particular achievements were nominated. I have a Twitter thread on this at https://twitter.com/RobTomshany/status/1027242753250545665.

August 8, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterRob T.

There is no bright side. The only positive is that the Popular Film award is such a bad idea that it makes the other two look like genius.

I very much dislike handing out awards off-air, but I suspect I'll eventually get used to it. After all, us Oscar fans will still watch the YouTube clips a hundred times, so it's not like we'll never get to see them.

Moving to early February is a problem, but has its promising aspects (less oversaturation in December).

There is nothing good about the Popular Film award. And by the way, I'm getting to like the Best Animated award less and less.

August 8, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterGuestguestguest

It's a travesty, plain and simple. The Academy is attracting no new viewers while managing to alienate its core base.

August 8, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterAndrew Carden

I FEEL SICK

August 8, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterDAVID

WTF indeed! This is unbelievable. "Popular Film"? What is THAT? La La Land grossed more than $ 150 million. So? Mad Max? Or will only Marvel superhero films, and adventure films and science fiction qualify? I read also that, just like Animated Film, Popular Films will also be eligible for Best Picture. So why not pull a Golden Globe stunt and come up with Best Comedy or Musical? Best Costume Drama? Best whatever?

Can you imagine the industry's for-your-consideration ads?

If they wanted changes -and especially considering they will hand out awards off-camera- they should have thought about adding the long-awaited return of the Best Juvenile Performance Oscar or Best Casting of a Motion Picture.

Come nomination morning, throngs of people will be asking for the AMPAS President's head on a spike!

August 8, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterMarcos

Its not the awards show that's too long, its the whole awards season ranging from festival prizes in the fall through Oscar night in late winter. It certainly diminishes the excitement for hardened Oscar fans when you can routinely pick 22 of 24 categories because they've already won everywhere else down the line. But I guess with these "changes" they're showing their desperation for ratings, which have nothing to do with the length of the show, etc. but the fact that there are 300 channels to choose from and forty years ago during their heyday, there were 3 or 4. The 'popular film' category diminishes the already dimming prestige of the Oscars and the idea of airing some awards during commercials should create an industry boycott of some sort.

August 8, 2018 | Unregistered Commenterhepwa

I also think that even with all the concessions made, particularly with expanding the field, all that happened was the field of “Oscar films” expanded. A guaranteed 10 did appear to expand the field to be more inclusive of both large and small films (District 9 and A Serious Man!), but as soon as things shifted to 5 up to 10, they seemed to shift back to their usually thing. Some years align well with more popular fare (I think 2012 was a great BP lineup that showcased the overall year well. Skyfall, which we assume came in 10th, would’ve been the ultimate cherry on top), but why not just go back to 5 if there’s a very obvious reason for changing the rule (The Dark Knight) and ignoring all the possibles (The Avengers, Wonder Woman, Harry Potter 7.2) that have followed?

Here’s hoping that the changes to membership will ultimately do more to broaden and help than these rule changes.

August 8, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterVal

Not watching the oscars this year.

August 8, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterJorge

Well said Nathaniel! What an almighty slap in the face to crafts people and true Oscar viewers alike. People have switched off because of the incessant politics, not because superhero films aren't getting nominated. This is sure to make the Baftas redundant again.

August 8, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterEvangelina

I wonder if The Academy came up with this dumbass "Best Popular Film Award" just to distract people from their even more horseshit decision to cut the "boring" technical winners from the telecast?

Either way this Oscar for "Best Popular Film" is a solution for no one. Anyone who wants to see superhero movies (or whatever) get Oscars will know they're just throwing a patronizing second rate bone to them and anyone who wants the Oscars to be even semi-dignified will be insulted as well.

Also depending on the details this will literally do nothing. The movies with a shot of actually winning the new award will be the ones nominated in the regular category. Like, if this was going to happen last year the "Best Popular Movie" award would presumably be a fight between Dunkirk, Get Out, and three other movies not nominated for the real Best Picture and thus with no hope of winning Fake Best Picture. Who is going to be tuning in just to watch The Last Jedi (or whatever) lose to Get Out or Dunkirk?

Also, what counts as popular is going to effect a lot. If it's as simple as "movie that made more than $100 million" the nominees in 2016 could have easily just been La La Land, Hidden Figures, Arrival, Sully, and Passengers. Do they really think that's going to give them a new audience?

All of this is not supposed to go into effect until next year, so, expect every acceptance speech by a sound editor or short filmmaker this year by the last class so privileged to be an impassioned speech to not do this. That should be fun, I could see that bringing in ratings.

August 8, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterMJS

Oh fuck this shit! Might as well put the Oscars in the trash bin now. Could you imagine the horror of these changes like a horrible movie by Michael Bay winning an Oscar?

That is blasphemy.

August 8, 2018 | Unregistered Commenterthevoid99

Loving all this.

In my mind I can only see Miranda Priestly (THE DEVIL WEARS PRADA) doing "that thing" with her lips with "CATASTROPHE" by her side

August 8, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterEd

Dan -- Go to IMDB and check LadyBird's release dates and you'll see how it opened post-Oscars in countries such as Japan, Germany or Sweden.

August 8, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterAntiScreeners

"February 9th is too soon"

Not for people who watch movies from January to December.
To people who watch movies ONLY to October to December, I agree is to soon. But, different of that? No

I hope that with the new date the studios understand that audiences go to cinemas / watch movies the ENTIRE YEAR and not only on the end of it.

"But the festivals and awards critics groups?"

Venice, Telluride and Toronto are in August / September.
Cannes are in May.
Berlin in February.

They will not face problems.

But the award groups and critics... Well... Will be heaven what the oscars without other groups telling them how to vote.

I'm sorry if this will cost a lot of jobs for the "predictors", but finally we will some good in the "award industry".

August 8, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterJon

They're going to cut off Best Costume Design and you know it. I mean, they had the nerve to deny us the pleasure of seeing the whole Kodak Theatre giving a standing ovation to Lauren Bacall so I expect the worst.

August 8, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterPeggy Sue

Jon -- Are you suggesting to download the movie if it doesn't open in time?

August 8, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterAntiScreeners

I do actually like the idea of moving the ceremony up. Lately there have been virtually NO surprises at the Oscars, which is frankly pretty boring. At least this way there is some potential for the awards to seem a little less pre-ordained.

The Most Popular Film category sounds ... odd. I'm not sure how they will determine what gets nominated in that category, but I'm guessing some mix of box office muscle and critical acclaim. Anyway, it sounds like a mess. Without even knowing what this category will be, my first thought is that Black Panther will almost certainly be winning it.

Not televising every category does not sound appealing to me, but I imagine some casual viewers might actually prefer that.

August 8, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterJJM

These decisions do seem kind of lame. Achievement in popularity is not really an achievement? (For example, Julia Roberts). It will only confuse people to have a best film and a separate popular film.

August 8, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterTom Ford

I don't think it's a good idea. They will overlap with Berlin and it will feel like an eternity until Cannes.

August 8, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterPeggy Sue

This is such a mess lol. It's similar to the Golden Globes with musical/comedy, though I enjoy it, it insinuates that "drama" is the standard and anything else is less than. So a "popular film" can't be quality? At least the musical/comedy is really spotlighting movies that otherwise go unnoticed. This is silly, if a "popular" film (whatever that means) is good enough, just nominate it. lol.

This seems like a sorry excuse to not nominate Black Panther or Hereditary for the awards they deserve... just when I thought we were making great progress, nominating Get Out last year. Ah well.

And it's so rude to not show all of the awards. Anyone in this industry understands that it takes a village to make a film and for most of those artists in the technical category, that's their one moment to shine.

Sigh.

August 8, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterPhilip H.

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